Sunday, March 8, 2009

Obama to restore stem cell funding

From the March 7 San Francisco Chronicle:
President Obama plans to rescind limits on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells by signing an executive order Monday, fulfilling a campaign promise to frustrated supporters of the scientific work. White House aides confirmed Friday that Obama will announce a stem cell policy shift in an East Room ceremony. He is expected to lift restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush in August 2001.

Scientists in the Bay Area, one of the world's top centers of stem cell research and arguably the strongest in the nation, said they expect that Obama will allow the National Institutes of Health to support research on hundreds of embryonic stem cell lines that did not qualify for federal funding under the Bush policy.

Bush had agreed with religious and conservative groups opposed on moral grounds to the extraction of stem cells from human embryos. He limited NIH support to work on 21 embryonic stem cell lines that already had been created by 2001.

Scientists and disease advocacy groups had chafed at the Bush restrictions because they saw in stem cell research the possibility of cures or more effective treatments for a broad range of diseases. Embryonic stem cells retain the ability to transform into any of the specialized cell types that make up the body, such as nerve, muscle or skin cells. The hope is that such cells could provide replacement tissues for many illnesses, including spinal cord injuries and diabetes.

The early stage embryos are usually obtained from fertility clinics where clients have a surplus of embryos after completing their families.

This is great news. The objections to this research by religious nuts never made sense. Their argument centered on the idea that it is immoral to make use of a small collection of frozen cells ("cytoblasts") which are going to be thrown away, because if these cells were not thrown away and if they were implanted in a woman's uterus, they could in theory grow into a human being, and therefore it is worse to help actual, living, breathing human beings than to learn from a collection of cells that would be tossed in the garbage.

Despite the prohibitions put on science by the moronic Bush Administration, publicly funded stem-cell research in California, privately funded research elsewhere in the U.S., and government funded research in countries all over the world which don't hate science has been getting started. Nothing concrete has yet come out of these studies, but the hope remains strong that it will. The researchers, colleges, companies and countries which make breakthroughs in this field will lead the world over the next 100 years.

Considering the horrible state of America's K-12 education, compared with so many of our competitors, the worst thing we could do would be to hamstring our nation's great research universities with half-witted religious dogma. The only result of that would be that scientists would leave the United States and our greatest asset would be forever damaged.

There is no quicker path to the decline and fall of a great power than to turn against science.

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